CONSUMER FORUM

Beware the 911 scam

Posted Oct. 27, 2012, at 1:41 p.m.

As soon as he spoke with the woman last Tuesday, Bangor Police Officer Chris Blanchard knew she had been the victim of an attempted hoax.

The woman reported receiving a call that sounded suspicious. Her caller ID had read “Emergency 911,” and the man who called said he had a warrant for her arrest. He told the woman she should call Officer Richard Johnson at a phone number in Texas and arrange a payment to have the warrants voided.

Officer Blanchard called the number the woman had been given, and an extended song and dance began. Blanchard asked the man who answered if he could speak with the man’s supervisor; after waiting on hold for a few minutes, the same man came back on the line and tried to disguise his voice. Asked for his supervisor, the con artist tried the same ploy again.

Finally, Blanchard told the crook to stop his scam attempts and was told, in essence, “Just try and stop me.” With that, the crook hung up.

Blanchard called the Texas Attorney General’s office and learned people there were well aware of the scam. It’s been repeated across the country, and some people — unlike the woman who reported the incident to Bangor police — have been scammed for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

The crooks play on some of our most basic emotions: fear of both public humiliation and legal trouble, even when we know we are innocent. They “spoof” the number of the phone they’re using to make it appear that the call is coming from a police agency. They threaten that failure to pay will have dire consequences.

In fact, they’re just blowing smoke. They’re hoping that you’ll wire them money (not recoverable) rather than telling police. They make hundreds of calls at random, hoping the people who answer will suspend their common sense.

“No one is ever going to do that,” said Bangor Police Sergeant Paul Edwards, when asked about the scam. Edwards said no legitimate law enforcement agency notifies targets of warrants by phone, let alone solicits bribes to erase the “crime.”

Variations of the scam are scary. Some crooks are on the way to becoming identity thieves, correctly stating a would-be victim’s Social Security Number or other personal information. Under duress, a victim might surrender enough additional data to allow the thief to steal his or her identity.

Other crooks pose as process servers, arriving at a potential victim’s workplace or home. Many scammers cite delinquency on loans, saying if the victim provides a debit card number, the payment will be made and the process server will go away. In fact, all that goes away is the victim’s money.

If you’re contacted by someone trying to collect a debt you don’t owe:

  1. Contact your local law enforcement agencies if you feel you are in immediate danger;
  2. Contact your banks and credit card companies;
  3. Notify the three major credit bureaus and request an alert be put on your file;
  4. If you have received a legitimate loan and want to verify that you do not have any outstanding obligation, contact the loan company directly.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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